If I had a pound for every time I’d been told that Twitter was for work, and Facebook was for ‘private’, I’d have about 10% as much money as if I’d received a pound for every time I’ve been told that having a website is the reason why newspapers aren’t seeing rising circulations.
However, while cashflow would have slowly dried up in recent years on the newspapers v the website point, the idea that Twitter is more relevant to newsrooms than Facebook is something I still hear quite often.
Regardless of speculation that Facebook is ripe to be overtaken by a new boy in town, and talk of the latest redesign likely to alienate users because of a greater emphasis on advertising and cash-generating apps, Facebook still offers the best social media chance for local newsrooms to connect with a local audience.
This post deals with some basic tips – written because I often see them ignored – for getting a good Facebook fan page off the ground. That could be for a brand or an individual.
1. Set it up properly
Facebook pages can be set up in moments – but it’s worth making sure you do it properly. Think about the main image you want to use across the top of the page, as well as the thumbnail image which will appear next to each post. For example, the Birmingham Mail’s Facebook thumbnail would have less impact if it tried to cram in the whole of the Mai’s branding, rather than the distinctive M. Likewise, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s main image gives a sense of all things Newcastle via a montage.
Think about how you describe the page too. Facebook gives you various categories to describe your page. Some newspapers/websites opt for ‘local business’. I prefer the option media/news/publishing – it tells you exactly what to expect.
And when you get the free-text boxes to describe what goes on the page, think beyond the obvious. Telling people what to expect on the page – eg news, sport, discussion and live updates – is much better than just describing a brand.
2. Start as you mean to go on
Think about what you intend to use the Facebook page for. Assuming it will drive traffic to your website (or sell more newspapers) just by displaying front pages and web links is only going to bring you disappointment. Traffic analysis I’ve seen shows far more traffic comes from links organically shared by users, rather than by brands. So why bother?
To me, Facebook fan pages are about showing that news brands are still relevant to readers and users of that social network. So work out what you’d see as valuable from a Facebook page and try to offer the same. That way, when something happens in your given location or area of expertise, people may well think of coming to you, or at the very least be more likely to share what you’re posting.
However, you’re more likely to appear in fans’ newsfeeds if people are engaging with your posts. Think pictures, think votes, think catchy updates which people are likely to respond to (The Denver Post has a neat trick in encouraging people to ‘like’ a post if they agree with statement or sentiment, or comment if they don’t. It also asks questions which encourage people to share advice and information, empowering users.)
Work out what time you can make available to monitoring conversation, starting debates, sharing pictures and video, posting links and try to stick to that. There’s no point collecting fans and then not keeping in contact.
3. Like other pages
Find other pages which are associated with your area or specialism and like them on behalf of your page. To do this, find a page you want to like and then click on the little wheel underneath their main image. This will give you the option to ‘like as a page.’
The challenge here is liking the right sort of pages. I don’t see any harm in ‘liking’ the local police force or the local council – on Facebook, they are sources of news and information who may well like you back. However, liking politicians or political parties could be trickier – where do you draw the line? If a local business is proactive enough to like you, does it hurt to like them back? After all, they could become a good contact.
4. Don’t automate
With technology generally comes the ability to automate things. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is bad. In the case of tools which give you the ability to fire an RSS feed into a Facebook fan page, I think it’s bad. RSS Graffiti is a great piece of software, but linking your Facebook page to all your headlines doesn’t scream great service, it screams ‘can’t be bothered.’ It also runs the risk of spamming users, who in turn interact less with a huge volume of links, which in turn reduces your chances of appearing prominently in feeds of followers in the future.
5. Don’t connect to other social networks regularly
When writing for Twitter, you write a certain way (and not just with a maximum 140 character limit). When writing for Facebook you’ll write another way. If I see Facebook updates which include hashtags or @ references – or my favourite, the #fb hashtag which tells you someone is using a third-party tool to pick up Tweets with that hashtag to autopublish to Twitter) I think I’m not important to that Facebook page. A bit like when someone is having one conversation, but then shout parts of it a bit louder so someone nearby can hear a bit.
6. Post links … and context
I don’t like doing naming and shaming of brands on here because it doesn’t achieve much – a bit like when Press Gazette pulls a title up for a literal in a headline and then drops one itself on its daily newsletter a few weeks later. I’m sure many cases of Facebook fan pages just posting links and a headline are due to time pressures – but without fail, a link which carries a couple of paragraphs of text, written in a chatty way, plus a photograph will generate more interest, more comments, more shares than a url slapped into the description box.
7. Updates don’t have to have links
Here’s something strange: You can get weather forecasts all over the place, but people love them on Facebook too. Often, radio and TV weather updates cover a wider area than a local news brand, so a quick weather update can often gather traction quickly. But there’s no link – so what’s the point? It keeps you in the minds of your fans for a start.
Likewise, when it snows, ask people what’s going on near them. That can apply to any news story for example. Even if you haven’t got copy on your website, it’s worth sharing what you know in the hope more information comes in. Traffic and travel updates are also popular.
8. Share your front page of the newspaper
Front pages of newspapers on Facebook fan pages are a no brainer. Not only do they provide a visual reminder of the day’s publication – and maybe even a prompt to buy it – it can also, with the right paragraph of text, spark a debate around the headline. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen front pages praised and shared and, on other times, criticised by readers for reasons newsrooms would perhaps never have thought of. What you do with that feedback is entirely up to you.
9. Ask questions…
Simple to do, yet so many don’t do it daily. It takes one click for people to be engaged:
10. Use the inbox
Anyone on Facebook can message your Facebook fan page, in the same way you can message friends privately from your own account. I’ve noticed a rise in the number of great stories dropping in there, or comments and opinions which are worth following up or responding to. It’s easy to forget about, but well worth finding the time to respond to people. It’s not really that different to ringing the newsdesk, is it?
And don’t forget to tell people about that way of talking to you.
11. Consider Facebook advertising
Hmmm, spending money? Yes, but not loads. Facebook gives you a number of options for Facebook advertising to promote your page. You can do advertising to promote your page to anyone who meets your criteria, or choose to promote specific posts – a useful tool if you’re one of many on a story which is attracting a lot of interest. Like I said, it doesn’t need to be a lot of money, but can make a big difference.
And even if you don’t do Facebook advertising, don’t forget to promote your page elsewhere. Fan increases are guaranteed if you start putting Facebook widgets on your website, as well as links to the page.
12. Share other pages’ posts
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a position where someone will have posted information and traditional journalistic instinct is to rewrite it it and republish it. But on Facebook, why not just share the update, clicking to post it to your page? That will (probably) please the admin of the page whose post you are sharing, and also provide a quicker service for your followers. It’s a sign you’re entering the spirit of community.
13. Build niches
We’re likely to cover many subjects, and some in more depth than others. I’m a big fan of spinning off strong content subjects into their own pages, so long as they are properly managed. That way, Aston Villa fans (for example) can gather around Aston Villa content, and get a lot more of it, than you’d feel comfortable posting on a main brand page if you were trying to keep everyone happy.
14. Interact, interact interact
Get involved in the comments under your posts, and find time to do so every day. If someone criticises a post, talk to them about it. That criticise will often turn into a constructive debate, or at the very least, reduce the chance of someone thinking you just don’t care.
15. Don’t give up
Building an audience can be a slow process, especially if your page has been automated or not very interactive. But if there was one message I really wish we could make stick tomorrow, it’s this: Facebook isn’t just for fun.